Since I write - with varying levels of private success - short fiction, it's important for me to read it as well, at least some of the time. And often I enjoy it too. Some of it more than others, but I like to think I learn a few
That being the case I thought it might be interesting to go through an anthology of short stories and compare the impressions they made on me. Not really a review, as this is my personal blog and not a review site. Okay, that's not proof of anything, but I'm not really playing criitc here.
The anthology in question is Shadows 10
, edited by the late Charles L Grant. Grant was a proponent of quiet horror, that is macabre fiction using subtler effects. This has an appeal to me, and the shadows books have some fine examples of it.
Might try this again in the future. We'll see.
* "Jamie's Grave" by Lisa Tuttle: An English mother is worried about her growing son pulling away from her. She resents that he's not her baby anymore. He starts digging "a grave" in the backyard, which gives her more reason to fret.
~~ This one has a pretty good build of psychological tension. The mother's character is clearly "off", but in subtle (there's that word again) ways. She's got just a little bit of a reverse Norman Bates thing. Then there's a twist ending redefines all the relationships.
* "Apples" by Nina Downey Higgins: A drifter tries staying in one place for awhile, living off of his stepsister. His dishonesty and curiosity combine to lead him into danger.
~~ As far as I can tell this is the only thing the author ever published. It's not outstanding, but all told it holds together pretty well. Your mileage may vary on the shock ending.
* "A World Without Toys" by TM Wright: Urban Archaeology as a couple of anthropologists find an old house in a storm sewer. The house is elusive, and strangely stocked with toys.
~~ Has a kind of Twilight Zone feel, and in fact a couple of TZ stories explored similar themes. Still, Wright is a good enough writer to carve out his own space here.
* "Law of Averages" by Wendy Webb: A man is picked up in secret, wears a disguise, and acts as executioner on death row. Then he makes plans for what to do on his own time.
~~ Could have run in, say, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, which isn't a bad thing. It's an effective little crime story. I'm not sure it's accurate as to the logistics of the death penalty. If you don't know who the executioner is how do you pay him?
* "The Fence" by Thomas Sullivan: Four college kids, formed into couples, drive home after exams and get on each other's nerves. Then they drive into a mysterious barren area with a long fence and hungry people behind it.
~~ Yeah, I liked this one. It starts with a pretty average group of kids and puts them in a surreal nightmare. It seems like there could be some social commentary here, but it's not obvious.
* "Moonflower" by Melissa Mia Hall: A disappointed academic moves back home to Texas and has a strange encounter with the old woman who lives next to him.
~~ I wasn't really keen on this one. Near the end there's a supernatural female-on-male rape (or something) scene, and it seems to hijack the story into a place where the author can't go to get it back.
* "Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming" by Bob Leman: A well-off widower buys a country home and starts seeing his late wife inside. His daughter and mother-in-law see the ghost but insist it's not her.
~~ Love this one. Easily my favorite in the book. What really sells it for me is that Leman keeps a consistent tone here, and it's perverse. The narrator never admits that there's anything scary about this. That doesn't stop the story from being creepy as all Hell. Quite the opposite, in fact.
* "The Finder-Keeper" by Ken Wisman: Things keep getting lost in a family's new home. The daughter says it's a magical sprite called the Finder-Keeper. The mother's old friend has heard similar tales.
~~ Pretty well drawn characters. There's also an intelligent mix here of supernatural and physical scares along with economic anxiety.
* "Just a Little Souvenir" by Cheryl Fuller Nelson: A young woman hears a story of love and murder from her elderly friends. Her wannabe boyfriend goes from "bored" to "interested for all the wrong reasons."
~~ More paranormal romance than horror as such. Well told. The would-be boyfriend character is a decades-ahead-of-its time portrait of male entitlement.
* "Like Shadows in the Dark" by Stephen Gallagher: A young Russian couple make plans to flee to the west together. On their train trip to Finland they get separated and fall prey to odd things.
~~ Interesting that this is one of two Iron Curtain stories in the volume, considerng this book came out in 1987, when Cold War Classic was almost over. I found the story itself muddled, though.
* "Office Hours" by Douglas E Winter: A comer of a lawyer works late, gets a Kafkaesque runaround from the senior partners, becomes unhinged.
~~ Strange story for any genre, but not ineffective. My educated guess is that the one violent scene is imaginary and the protagonist is just losing his mind. But I could be wrong.
* "We Have Always Lived in the Forest" by Nancy Holder: A woman lives in the middle of nowhere with her children. A fugitive comes to her door and his shocked by what she does with these children.
~~ Something of an oddity in that the story seems to have a dystopian sci-fi setting. Kind of take this as a black comedy. It works that way.
* "Just Like Their Masters" by Mona A Clee: Bullies - not teenage bullies, grownups who should know better - pick on the quiet town eccentric. And his dog. Not a good idea.
~~ Fairly well written bit of small town literature. As a story first published in a horror anthology it ends up pretty much where you expevted it would.
* "Pigs" by Al Sarrantonio: A man in Poland hears he's wanted by the Soviet-aligned police. He flees, but his travels take him to a sinister hotel.
~~ The second and better of the book's Eastern European set stories. It's more surreal than scary, but the world needs surreal.